Vohra, Again

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Mufti Sayeed’s demise instantly stripped his cabinet colleagues of their portfolios and powers  as Governor takes over. With ministerial and personal staff struggle to fit into new power system, Tasavur Mushtaq gauges the dilemma inside Civil Secretariat

Governor-VohraOn January, 7, 2015, the sound of footsteps on the concrete floor of Civil Secretariat (CS) Jammu’s corridor breaks the eerie silence.

The daily security bandobast, beeping metal detectors, speeding beaconed vehicles, annoying sirens, have all fallen silent. Instead, employees have assembled in the main lawn of the CS. People, who only a few days ago were shouting slogans pressing Mufti led government to accept their demands, were seen praying for the departed soul. The news about Mufti’s demise had already reached people. The top brass of the state’s administration, who was either in Jammu or Delhi, was busy making travel arrangements, as nobody wanted to skip Mufti’s funeral in Srinagar.

Inside CS Jammu, most of the employees were talking about Mufti and his heydays as CM of J&K. At the same time employees were constantly checking General Administration Department (GAD) website for holiday announcement. At 10:30 AM, someone from the crowd said that state holiday has been declared, besides a seven days official mourning. The state flag was lower to half-mast as employees started to leave in silence.

The silence was more deafening on the second floor of the main building that houses the secretariat of Chief Minister. There were no SOG personnel guarding the “power corridor” leading to CM’s office. Those who manned the corridor remembered Mufti as ‘good human being with a golden heart’. “Mufti sahib always reciprocated our wishes with his hand and smile,” said Ghulam Muhammad, an orderly. “He was never in hurry while walking through.”

While all the ministers were on their way to Srinagar, their personal staff from secretarial cadre, killed time by drawing comparison between ‘Mufti of 2002 with 2015’.

The conclusions were diverse with one common factor that in his earlier term, “Mufti had done commendable job as an administrator.”

Ideologies apart, people were condoling Mufti’s death. “You feel bad when a person you see every walking past you dies. It is sort of a family. Otherwise hundreds die, but we don’t know them,” Azad Ahmad told Kashmir Life.

Ironically, while the entire state was in mourning, BJP MLA and speaker assembly Kavinder Gupta attended an inauguration function. “Shayad fir kabi moqa na mile (Maybe he won’t get chance again),” said one of the staffers sarcastically.

It is said that, after Mufti Sayeed was hospitalized on December, 24, 2014, many ministers accelerated their pace of work and cleared pending files disproportionately.

Hours after Mufti’s body was flown to Srinagar, GAD deleted names of council of ministers from their website, signaling end of J&K government officially. GAD website was down with ‘Page under maintenance’ flashing on its interface. According to reports, one BJP minister called GAD secretary, as he could not bear the ‘shock’ of not being the minister.

He was pacified that now his stature has been reduced to only a lawmaker. This unnerved many about their future prospects and of their bosses.

The next few days were totally in contrast with what CS Jammu witnesses during winters. For instance, the reserved parking lot for minister’s vehicles was completely empty. Their offices were sealed by the security personnel. The numbers of visitors, who would come from different parts of state to meet their representatives, have gone down to almost zero. With state ruled by none, officials disposed only those cases which were already approved by the ministers. Meanwhile, the silence inside the corridor leading to CM secretariat is still persistent.

On day three, the political uncertainty that prevailed in J&K after Mufti’s death, was broken as Governor NN Vohra was given reins of the state by the President of India. It was Vohra’s third stint as head of the state after he became Governor of J&K in 2008.

The following day, entire state machinery was seen in attendance to observe Chahrum (fourth day of mourning) of late Mufti at his ancestral town Bijbehara.

The next day (January 11, 2015), a tall policeman wearing his best uniform and full headgear, greeted people at the main gate of the CS Jammu. These kind of uniformed guards are usually seen on the day of cabinet meeting. With state under Governor’s rule, most of the employees were in their offices at 9:30 AM. All the administrative secretaries were present in their respective offices. The parking slot was jam packed. Though, the space reserved for ministers vehicles continue to lie vacant. Lifeless corridors were once again buzzing with activity. Security officials were on their toes. But the void was visible as customized blue-and-white name plates of ministers and their personal section were taken off. Nameless doors confused both employees and visitors as they were struggled to find offices.  “It took me a while to locate my room as the name plate was missing,” a Personal Assistant of an ex-minister told Kashmir Life.

At around 10:30 AM, the cavalcade of Governor arrived. He was received by the state Chief Secretary and DGP, who accompanied him to the office. All administrative secretaries were present in the meeting room. “Get back to the work. No transfers but fill the gaps and report urgent matters to me,” was the message conveyed by the Governor.

A source, who was present in the meeting said, Governor expressed concern over the reports of “increasing corruption” in the system and directed officials to deal with it firmly.

According to a Secretary rank official Governor passed strict directives to speed up SRO cases. “Last time too Governor was concerned about pending SRO cases. He had directed officers to take these cases on the priority basis,” he said.

A middle rung official told Kashmir Life that, “Last time when Governor’s rule was imposed in the state, Vohra had issued orders to provide employment under SRO cases within 120 days.”

Sources say that Governor has directed senior officials to clear files pending with the Chief Minister’s office in one go.

An additional secretary to government, on condition of anonymity, said the Governor even mentions time when he signs a file, “I have seen filed signed even after mid-night.”

He further said, “He works fearlessly as he doesn’t have to appease vote bank.”

A union leader of employees told Kashmir Life that in February 2015, Governor cleared a file pending since 1995 within an hour. “He is meticulous and professionally sound to handle the state.”

According to sources, a top state functionary was reprimanded by the Governor in the first meeting of administrative secretaries. “He tried to talk too much and Governor took it otherwise and scolded the officer.”

It is said, a call from influential political quarters came to the rescue of the said top official.

After the meeting concluded, officers associated with various ministers were seen making index of files to be returned to the administrative secretaries. There were no takers of the personal section of ministers. The buzzing office telephone connections were suspiciously silent. The engagement calendars were blank. The staff was in fix whether to report back to GAD or wait. There were emotional scenes too as the ten month long association, developed between different ministerial staff members, had come to an abrupt end.

In the prevailing confusion, cashiers of different departments were busy collecting bills of former ministers for payment proceeds. “Who knows what will happen in next days, better is to clear the backlog,” Abdul Hamid, working as cashier in one of the departments told Kashmir Life.

Offices apart, the residential arrangement were also hit. PRO of a senior ex-minister was shown door by the officials in circuit house, Jammu telling him that, “ministries cease to exist and there is no option to have PRO in state guest house.”

An additional PRO with another ex-minster was asking a clerk about the procedure of “claiming TA”. The vehicles of various senior officers, working on special duty with ministers, were recalled.

As the word spread about concerned department refusing to pay the fuel bill, drivers of ex-ministers worked overtime to fill their logbooks in order to get last week’s expenses reimbursed.

  An ex-minister’s peon was seen lamenting that he was not allowed inside minster’s room where he had kept some of him important belongings, including New Year’s calendars.

He was seen telling people that officials had told him, “Nobody would be allowed to enter the said minister’s room till the new government is formed.”

The scenes inside CS Jammu were both emotional as well as comic. With uncertainty hanging over the fate of ministerial staff, they were seen pulling each other’s legs by says, “Power is gone.” Even the permanent employees from different departments didn’t miss opportunity to take a jibe at them, “Kursi chane rozaan”.

Indeed power lasts till government is there! One powerful Private Secretary, who used to manage things with a single phone call, had to visit CS Jammu personally to get a small work done.

One senior official quipped, “It is better to be a permanent employee; we have to qualify only once. These politicians have to apply every time for the job.”

With Governor running the show, powers were given to the administrative secretaries.

The peon and other staff working with ex-ministers were seen roaming around the CS Jammu. The security officials of ministers were enjoying the warmth of sun as they had no VIP movement around. The tour diaries were left in the pocket. The interior roads of secretariat are relatively calm as around 25 ministers, their security, staff and people who come to see them are no more present.

Every morning starts with a discussion about formation of a new government and ends with speculations. People who were powerful only a week back carried a look of confusion on their hung faces. The officials are clearing the backlog and enjoying the ‘freedom’ of not being under the influence of politicians.

Despite Governor’s rule considered as ‘better system of governance’ within official circles, the discussion on formation of elected government is keeping most of the officers busy.

When this report is being filed, more than dozen cabinet reshuffles have been proposed with varied portfolios. The important officers transferred and new face taking command. This is all what transcribes among the personal staff of ministers and officials who are keen about the political developments in the state. They make and break government and change players on finger tips while sipping tea.

But the uncertainty is palpably visible inside the power corridors of Jammu’s Civil Secretariat. The buzz word is: what next!

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